THE Townsville Stingers and Norths Devils have set up a fascinating Mal Meninga Cup Under 18 grand final, with both sides full of confidence and excitement ahead of the massive match.
Stingers booked their grand final place alongside their Cyril Connell Cup club-mates by defeating Wynnum Manly Seagulls 64-6 and face a Devils side who, inspired by a Keenan Yorston hat-trick, defeated Mackay Cutters 38-18.
Norths coach Craig Grauf has shown why he is such a well-respected mentor again this season, backing up last season’s Connell Cup victory with a Meninga Cup grand final appearance with a side featuring several younger players.
Grauf was quick to praise Norths’ development program which has not only found talented youngsters, but given them a pathway to continue their progression.
“It’s a fantastic program and I’m extremely pleased with it,” Grauf said.
“We’ve got players who’ve gone from Connell Cup to the national final to now the Meninga Cup final and they’re still 17.”
Stingers’ coach Steve Sheppard was pleased with his side’s win against Wynnum, noting his contentment with the team’s effort from the first play to the last.
“I was very proud of the boys playing the full-game against Wynnum,” Sheppard said.
“We’ve been a little inconsistent across the whole 70 minutes, but the boys really delivered and put the foot on the throttle.”
The Devils – like the Stingers – are a club who have achieved statewide success before and Grauf credited an infusion of youngsters alongside players who are now in their second Meninga Cup campaign as one of the key reasons behind Norths’ success so far this season.
“The 17 year olds have developed really well and that confidence has rubbed off on our second-year 18 year olds,” he said.
“The older boys are more of the leaders, but they’ve been growing in confidence and enjoying their footy more with some of the younger boys.”
Grauf is anticipating a cracking match against a Stingers side who’ve also grown throughout the season and with strike-power across the park.
“They’re quite an older side, with their big forwards they’re very physical and a strong footy side,” he said.
“Really they’ve been very good for a long time and are great all over the paddock.”
Reaching a grand final is a proud moment for Norths, but Grauf knows his side won’t be satisfied with just that.
“We want to enjoy the experience because it’s a big moment,” he said.
“We’ve got talent, we’re going up there to win but to do that we will have to be at our very best.”
Only one defeat during the regular season has shown Townsville’s skill, but Sheppard is fully aware of how fiercely competitive the grand final will be against Grauf’s outfit.
“They’re definitely a quality side, I have a lot of respect for Craig,” he said.
“We realise and understand how good they’re going to be.”